Higher drop out rates in Engineering

Engineering fields are very popular among new college students. Many of them enroll in STEM programs across the world but do not graduate. They either drop out or change majors. While doing my research on this topic, some of the reasons for drop out listed in student surveys are (references 1,2 and 3) –

  1. Lack of self-confidence
  2. Too much work
  3. No longer believe in succeeding in engineering
  4. Engineering major not matching the interest
  5. Poor science/engineering knowledge in high schools
  6. Poor background and debt in student loans (do not have enough money to finish 4-year education)
  7. Higher drop out rate in Latin and black students as compared to white peers.

Researchers at Iowa State University did a thorough literature review of the 50 different studies focusing on low retention rates for engineering majors (reference 3). The researchers talk about the reasons behind students transferring to other majors from engineering. One cannot stop someone from leaving if they are not interested but partly is due to the failure of educators in making fresh college students believe that engineering, scientific and mathematical principles are within the reach of their abilities. I totally believe in that conclusion. I know of many friends who left engineering because they lost interest due to the bad professor teaching in the early days of college. Let us also talk about the amount of loss in terms of money for the individual who drops out without graduation. According to the study, assuming a 30-year working life, leaving engineering might cost an individual student on the order of one half-million-dollar over the course of their career. This also means millions of dollars of tuition fee loss to the college per year.

Now let’s talk about some ways to increase the retention rates. There are some of the curricular level, co-curricular level and extra-curricular level. Providing a better classroom and research atmosphere can definitely increase retention rates.  Some of the curricular avenues that can help include first-year seminars focusing on real-life engineering problems. Guest lectures from renowned engineers can definitely motivate new students. Group projects and lab projects can help students relate to the practical side of engineering. Social projects in the field of civil engineering like building bridges in remote locations with the help of local people can also help.

Co-curricular activities like engineering internships, summer exchange programs, and student-faculty interactions also boost the morale of the students. They not only increase engineering knowledge but also helps grow your networking circle. For example, I decided to continue structural engineering after my first internship. It was then when I realized that civil engineering is fun and the things we do have a direct impact on people. At last, extra-curricular activities like participation in student organizations and cultural clubs also relives some heat off. I am a civil engineer but was always fascinated by robots and mechanical engineering. That desire made me join the robotics club during my undergrad. An engineer in my eye is someone who has basic knowledge of all types of engineering. And with time and experience, one does acquire that. All you have to do is stick around if you are interested.


  1. https://www.collegetransitions.com/blog/so-you-want-to-be-an-engineer/
  2. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2019/02/26/latinx-black-college-students-leave-stem-majors-more-white-students
  3. Why They Leave: Understanding Student Attrition from
    Engineering Majors – https://www.rise.hs.iastate.edu/projects/CBiRC/IJEE-WhyTheyLeave.pdf


2 Replies to “Higher drop out rates in Engineering”

  1. I think that your blog post was really helpful to give more insight into the engineering field because I also have a lot of friends that early on switched away from engineering. I think you bring up great ways to increase more interest into the engineering field and I believe that could also be important in across multiple fields. I know I was always told to get involved with my major for clubs or other activities and I think that part is very crucial not only to be successful in the field, but you meet new people and network with others that want to do what you want to do. I agree that working in these activities into your schedule will help boost confidence levels of the students with lack of confidence.

  2. Thank you for your insight into the implications of different programs in the retention of students in engineering. I am glad that you had the opportunity to take part in different internships and experiences that allowed you to figure out which engineering was the best fit for your interests and the impact that you want to make through your career. Currently, I am working with researchers in engineering education on different pathways that transfer engineering students take to get to four year institutions. Then we also look at the different motivating factors for students to persist throughout their degree. Thank you for listing some of the potentional reasons that a student may not persist throughout their engineering career. I hope that advisors and program directors would take these considerations into account when they are building their programs.

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